I don't make a lot of absolutes when it comes to parenting, but I truly believe that buying your kid a membership to your city's zoo is one of the best choices you can make. My daughter was still a baby when I bought ours, and it has turned us into weekly zoo visitors, offering tons of education and fun. Some of my favorite memories are built into the walls of Zoo Atlanta, and I think it's a phenomenal activity for every kid. But without a few zoo safety tips, those fun zoo days can quickly turn into an afternoon from hell.
Just this past weekend, Cincinnati Zoo had to make the heartbreaking decision to kill a male gorilla after a 4-year-old boy made his way into the gorilla's enclosure. Although the Internet has predictably weighed in on the controversy with its opinions and expertise from behind their smartphones, the truth is, this kind of devastating incident could happen again. In fact, the Cincinnati Zoo isn't the first zoo to experience a small child making its way into the gorilla enclosures. ABC News reported that, in 1996, a 3-year-old boy managed to climb a barrier and land inside the gorilla habitat. Fortunately, his story differed from this past weekend's news.
In the 1996 incident, a female gorilla found the toddler and carried him to safety without any fear, but the fact remains the same — gorilla enclosures are no place for children. None of the animal habitats in the zoo are for children to be in, and while you think you could prevent an incident like these from happening to your own kid, the truth is, things happen. Any kid can tumble into any animal enclosure, which is why it's so important to have a zoo safety guide so your days out are fun, happy, and safe for both your children and the animals.
1. Remind Your Children That The Zoo Animals Are Still Wild
Yes, the animals at the zoo are wonderful to see and some of them do really cute things, like the lion cubs rolling all over each other, but you have to remind your children that these animals are still wild. They don't know how to play with children, they don't know that a human is nice, and they are not Disney characters. They are real, wild animals and the can hurt you.
2. Don't Let Children Lean, Sit, Or Climb On Railings
The railings are there for a reason — to keep you and the animals safe. When you let your children climb, sit, or lean on them, you're teaching them to be disrespectful of the zoo's safety precautions and letting them think that any barrier is fine to scale.
3. Keep Children Close
It may sound like a no-brainer, but it's easy to let the barriers around animal enclosures give you a false sense of security. No matter how secure it looks, you need to keep your little ones close so they can't make a quick escape through a barrier. Hold their hands, keep them in sight, and consider using one of those harness backpacks — whatever it takes to keep them nearby and safe.
4. Remind Children To Be Respectful Of The Animals
Tapping on the glass, teasing the animals, yelling at them or throwing things are all signs of disrespect. Your kids may think they're just being silly, but it's important to make sure they know that the zoo is an animal's home, and they are visitors there. They need to respect all of the animals in every sense of the word.
5. Read Up On The Rules Of Your City's Zoo
And discuss them with your kids. Each zoo has their own rules, such as no loud music to keep the animals from being disturbed and no feeding the animals, and it's important to know what they are. Let your children know that if the rules aren't followed, the zoo won't allow them back.
6. Put Safety Above Fun
The cliché "it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt" is a cliché for a reason. I know a picture of your kid balancing on a rock by the giraffe enclosure would be perfect, but compromising their safety for fun is a no-no. If your kids want to run and act silly, tell them to wait until you're outside of the petting zoo so that everyone remains safe. These little instances can make your trip even better, I promise.
7. Listen To The Trainers & Tour Guides
Going to the zoo means giving your kid a wealth of knowledge, so make sure they're listening to the trainers and tour guides. The more they know, the safer they'll be, especially when learning about an animal's behavior.
8. Encourage Your Kids To Ask Questions
You don't want them to be afraid of the zoo, so encourage your kids to ask lots of questions. Read books, find a trainer to talk to, and pick up all of the information you can at the zoo. Knowledge is power and it gives you a place to start when it's time to talk about being safe at the zoo.
9. Stay In Designated Areas
Don't veer off the paths that the zoo has built. Don't let your kids climb trees, walk off the path, or try to get closer to the enclosures while walking. Again, if they can't respect the obvious barriers, then they won't respect the really crucial ones.
10. Remind Children That They Might Scare Animals
It ties into the respect talk, but many kids don't realize how much they could scare an animal, even a wild one. Talk to your kids about how they should act around animals and why animals could be scared of them and lash out.
11. Make Your Children Follow Your Rules
The rules you have for any other day should be in effect at the zoo. You want them to have a good time, but that doesn't mean they can ignore you, run off, or break any other of your rules. Keep them in line and make sure they understand your boundaries and why.